Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Alcatraz Correction: Cutting to the Chase

After all those years of work...after thousands of hours of research, writing and rewriting...there still remained the thorny problem of The First Five Pages.  I'd read Noah Lukeman's book on that subject and I stood among the converted  I believed that readers know--as agents and editors do--if they'll buy after reading just that many pages.  And it takes more than hot action to rope them all in.  A tone loaded with punch and charisma will accomplish more than a thousand bullets.

Savvy beta readers inspired a pair of short newspaper clippings to get burdensome back story out of the way in a clean, convenient fashion.  Cool.  Boss' mentor, Lew Miles, has been murdered and his fiancee, Val--Boss' client--remains in critical condition.  Cut straight to the hospital, where Boss has just gotten the news:  Val's dead.  We're ready to get moving, right?

You'd certainly think so.  But pride goeth before the stall.  One leetle problemo remained:  I had a cute opening I  couldn't bear to change or loss:  'Boss MacTavin always hated having to murder his clients.  The little inconveniences that followed death confused them...'  Now, Boss has never murdered any of his clients.  The not-so-great idea was to hoodwink readers into thinking that he has, then give witty examples of those little inconveniences following death.  This accomplished, I did some fast footwork to reassure readers that Boss is actually in shock over the death of his client, that the 'murders' he referred to are staged events similar to witness relocation, etc.   (He's been laughing, like Lord Byron, so that he doesn't weep.) Then, on page three, came a killer sentence about a particular sort of San Francisco that set the mood just perfectly.  One beta reader suggested deleting the entire first two pages.

The funny thing was, my gut reaction all along had been to try doing that.  Now I did.  And what a difference it made cutting out the cutesies and getting directly Boss' grief and that great sky.  

Moral of the story:  When you hear a little voice whisper 'They'll love me if they just hang in to page 10'--cut directly to page 10.

This is my report.

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